Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Luther Thomas and the Human Arts Ensemble-FUNKY DONKEY CD (Atavistic, available just about all over the place [try ebay for a swell deal!])

I've forgone listening to all of those burned cee-dees that have been taking up much of my time as of late to dive into some of the stuff that I've owned, loved and perhaps even wrote about more'n a few times but seemed to shove to the back of the bus so to speak. Some of these items include the first two La Dusseldorf albums which I dug out after reading a review of the Water label reissues in the latest UGLY THINGS (you can read my musings regarding these items here...scroll down as they say). Another is this nicety which I originally reviewed in the twenty-fifth (and latest/last) issue of my fanzine and have returned to again and again since. And although I really don't play FUNKY DONKEY as often as I perhaps should I must 'fess up to the fact that of all of the Human Arts Ensemble albums that have been plunked out since the advent of the Black Arts Group in the early-seventies, this 'un is perhaps the best, most high energy excursion into avant-funk (before that became "hip" to the throngs of heroin-sated lower Manhattan denizens) to have been laid down to vinyl and eventually aluminum ever! These Human Arts Ensemble albums can be chance-y affairs with some like P'NK J'ZZ not quite living up to the promise of their titles and others being deeply-searing excursions into seventies loft jazz possibilities, but as things stand in the here and now FUNKY DONKEY is thee ultimo trip regarding that whole hip free jazz cum funk style of aggression that used to be the hip cause at THE NEW YORK ROCKER back in the early-eighties before it all went under with one felt swoop.

One of those NEW MUSIC DISTRIBUTION SERVICES offerings that I wish I had the intelligence to get hold of before they went under (though I did have the brains to purchase Arthur Doyle's ALABAMA FEELING from 'em amongst other worthies, so please be kind!), this digital version of FUNKY DONKEY really is the utmost when it comes to that more feral brand of seventies free jazz that seemed to dabble more than a pinkie in the realm of funk and rock. When listening to this live romp (recorded in a church!) the more electric tracks on WILDFLOWERS naturally come to mind, only FUNKY DONKEY is even less controlled than anything on that epochal series of avant jazz documentation which is saying something potent. The liner notes about mixing the JBs with a hand-grenade do seem apropos, though the Contortions going soul sauce just might be a tad overstatement...I kinda like that 'un though! Even HAE leader Charles "Bobo" Shaw's "Una New York" gets way into a funky Puerto Rican free splat while the "bonus" track written by BAG standby Oliver Lake proves that even though I always thought that guy was the least-exciting (but still cohesive enough) player in the BAG stable he sure could compose a mighty fine number that shouldn't've been left in the closet for this long amt. of time. Considering all the goodies that remain in the closet I'm sure glad it finally got to grace our ear canals for once!

Maybe I should mention this version of the HAE while I'm at it. Thomas of course is fantastic sounding like the missing link between Ayler and James Chance only with a way fuller sound and (classic) r&b romp than the latter, while future Defunkt trombonist/leader Joseph Bowie gets to step outta his dashiki into something more snappy with his equally urban style that at least seemed to typify a good portion of the very-early eighties underground for me. Brother Lester makes a trip from his Chicago stretch to lend his trumpet to the bray (you can easily spot his typical Art Ensemble-ish rolls and riffs a mile away here) while Shaw keeps it all together with his strong pulse. Marvin Horne's guitar, while not the same intense bundle of bare-wired nerves as fellow BAG-ger Richard Martin's, is funky-riff fine enough and electric bassist Eric Foreman seems to lend a heavy-enough bottom to it all. I'll bet the both of 'em ended up playing in disco bands to pay the bills and to that I say fooey! The rest of the guys on reeds, trumpets and percussion did their part, and they did it well to boot!

I should admit that even though this is the age of the Cee-Dee and that analog has all but been banished from the face of this earth howcum a nice portion of this recording sounds like a vinyl elpee with a big hunk of dust firmly clinging to the needle? I've been hearing great gobs o' goo as to how superior the Cee-Dee is to good ol' vinola, but at times this sounds like it probably was taken straight offa some longplaying copy w/o the proper pre-spin cleaning such an endeavor would require. Sheesh, sometimes releases such as this make me miss the good ol' days of warped albums and tonearms jumping all over the place!

But anyhoo, if you liked that Solidarity Unit Inc. album with Shaw leading a massive incursion into hard avant bop (and why shouldn't you since this is probably the jazz elpee of the year?) you'll certainly get your jollies outta FUNKY DONKEY. And considering how it seems to be popping up frequently on ebay and at a price you can afford unless you're from New Guinea why dontcha get hold of one and finally come to the not-so-strange conclusion that maybe I have been right about these things for all these years! Of course you can easily enough ignore the truth and go find comfort in the sanctity of your favorite amerindie blog, but when that hard wind of high energy suddenly hits you hard on the nape of the neck don't come crying to me!

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